The end was near.
Adric, alone on the stricken freighter, knew it. The craft was locked on a collision course with Earth, the Cybermen having turned it into what the Doctor had described as a "flying bomb"; in just a few moments, it would strike the planet and explode with a force so powerful that it would devastate everything. And you didn't need a badge for mathematical excellence to calculate the odds of surviving such an explosion when you were going to be caught right in the middle of it. Adric could feel the floor shaking, but could not tell if it was from the vibration of the freighter's engines or his own body trembling with fearful anticipation. Not that it mattered now . . .
Staring helplessly at the viewscreen as the image of Earth grew larger with every passing second, Adric felt tears pricking at his eyes and blinked them back. Though there was no-one here to see him, he was not going to allow himself to break down. He was not going to spend his last moments of life crouched, sobbing, on the floor of the freighter, the same freighter he had fought so desperately to divert away from the planet into which it would soon crash. Directly in front of him stood the burnt-out remains of the freighter's navigational computer; a Cyberman had destroyed it as Adric was typing in the last of the three logic codes that would have allowed him to regain control of the craft. And any hope of preventing the crash had been destroyed along with the computer; there was no chance of repairing it in time.
The Cyberman responsible for the computer's destruction lay lifeless on the floor, still clutching his gun. But Adric did not trouble to look at him, an emotionless being of cold intellect. Death held no fear for Cybermen; they had eliminated fear along with all other emotions. Emotions, as the Cyber Leader had put it shortly before the Doctor and Tegan had been forced to leave Adric on the freighter, "restrict and curtail the intellect and logic of the mind". But Adric, though outwardly appearing calm, was more afraid than he had ever been in his life. The fear he had felt during the Marshmen's attack, when facing the Great Vampire, while trapped in the Master's web, when he had lost control of the TSS was nothing compared to what he felt now. This was fear mixed with the despair of knowing that, this time, there would be no escape.
In his mind's eye, he could see those who had played a significant role in his life. The Doctor appeared first as the tall, curly-haired man Adric had first met, before changing into his current form, fair-haired and clad in an old-fashioned cricketing outfit with a sprig of celery pinned to the coat. Next came Romana, her dark blonde hair framing her face, K-9 at her side; still in E-Space, it was unlikely she would ever learn of Adric's fate. Tegan and Nyssa appeared together, though he and Tegan have never got on particularly well. Nyssa, by contrast, had always been a close friend and their relationship had grown even closer lately. She was the first person he had met who was near his age but could relate to him on the same intellectual level and they had something else in common; they were both the last surviving members of their respective families.
But, along with his fellow TARDIS-travellers, Adric saw Varsh, the brother he had lost during the struggle with the Marshmen. Varsh had died at the hands of the highly adaptable creatures . . . His own doom only seconds away, Adric reached down and removed the belt he had inherited from his brother. All the Outlers, the gang Varsh and his friends had formed when they opted out of mainstream Alzarian society, had owned such a belt and, though Adric had never been formally initiated into their ranks, a female Outler named Keara had removed Varsh's belt from his body and given it to Adric. Now, as he had done on that occasion, Adric clutched the belt to his chest, bracing himself for the end. His grip tightened . . .
In the same instant, the freighter hit. The explosion which followed was so enormous that the one which, some 65 million years later, would flatten the Japanese city of Hiroshima would have paled by comparison. Adric had no time to cry out; the intense heat unleashed by the explosion incinerated him in less than a second.
The first thing Adric was aware of was the fact that he was lying on his back. His eyes were closed and, just for a moment, he thought the whole harrowing encounter with the Cybermen and being trapped on a doomed space freighter had been a bad dream. If he opened his eyes, he would find himself back on the TARDIS with the Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa. But, then, he heard a voice which told him otherwise.
"Necron, report on the status of the Deceased." A man's voice, but not one Adric recognised. And who, or what, was Necron?
"Information on the Deceased is as follows," replied a second voice. This voice was synthetic, that of a computer or robot. "Adolescent humanoid male, no physical remains."
"And you're certain he was a time-traveller?"
"Yes, energy associated with time-travel was detected in the same vicinity."
Realising the only way he could find out the identities of the two speakers was to open his eyes, Adric did so. He was in a room whose walls were painted a metallic grey, lying on a low table; for a moment, he was reminded of the time he and Tegan were being interrogated by the Terileptil leader and felt his body stiffen. But, when he turned his head in the direction of the voices, he saw not a Terileptil, but a male humanoid dressed in a long black robe standing in front of a glowing blue orb. And the man was speaking to the orb.
"And he was not of Earth origin?"
"No," replied the orb. "External appearance matches that of the dominent species on Earth, but he was not from that planet. Additional . . ."
At that point, Adric, forgetting everything the Doctor had taught him about not interupting people (and glowing orbs) when they were talking, could contain his curiosity no longer. "Who are you?" he blurted out, cutting the orb off in mid-sentence. "And where am I?"
"So, you're with us at last." The man in the black robe turned to face Adric, revealing an ageless, unlined face, his blue-grey eyes scrutinizing the young Alzarian closely. "In answer to your first question, I am Mortis and that . . ." He nodded in the direction of the orb. " . . . is Necron. As for where we are, this place has no single name, but it is the abode of the Deceased. You are now dead."
"Dead?" Adric echoed Mortis's last word. Though he had been expecting it from the moment the computer was destroyed, hearing about one's own death was unsettling. He sat up and looked down at himself; everything appeared to be normal, right down to the star-shaped badge pinned to the left-hand side of his chest. And, yet, he distinctly remembered Ringway taking that very badge from him . . .
"Yes," replied Mortis. "Physically, there is nothing left of you; you are, for want of a better term, the essence of the person you were when you were alive."
Mortis waited for a while to give Adric chance to absorb what he had said. Many of the Deceased, particularly those whose lives ended prematurely as Adric's had, found the news that they were now nothing more than essence difficult to come to terms with. In the meantime, he turned back to Necron. "Complete you previous statement, starting from "additional"," he instructed.
"Additional," Necron said again. "His life ended during the period of Earth's history known as the Cretaceous."
"And that means he died outside his own time. Necron, scan him. Identify his race and find out how he came to be a time-traveller."
In response, Necron glowed more intensely than before. Instinctively, Adric closed his eyes and covered them with his arm, even though being nothing but essence would have prevented him from being blinded. "Information is as follows," he heard Necron say. "Given name: Adric. Planet of origin: Alzarius, in the parallel universe known as E-Space. Has travelled in space and time as a companion of the Time Lord known as the Doctor."
Mortis listened in silence. The Doctor again - nearly every time that particular Time Lord showed up anywhere, someone ended up dead. Mortis remembered some of the others who had died during an encounter with the Doctor, more humans, humanoids and other assorted beings than even he could name individually; luckily, Necron contained files on all the Deceased and could call up this information immediately when asked to do so. And that was what Mortis asked it to do now. "Necron, search your files for the Deceased who had contact with the Doctor at around the time of their deaths. In particular, any who were among his travelling companions when they died."
Necron glowed again, then reported back. "Information is as follows," it said. "Only two previous companions of the Doctor died while travelling with him. Deceased companion #1: Katarina, hand-maiden from Ancient Troy. Cause of death: asphyxiation due to being jettisoned into the vaccuum of space. Deceased companion #2: Sara Kingdom, Space Security agent in the year 4000. Cause of death: rapid ageing due to exposure to Dalek Time Destructor device. Both travelled with the Doctor during his first incarnation."
"Summon them," Mortis instructed, before turning back to Adric. "I expect you're wondering how this place works," he said to the young Alzarian. "To put it in its simplest terms, we are outside the normal boundaries of time . . ."
As Mortis continued talking, Adric let his mind wander. That was one of the many Earth expressions he had never completely understood, but the Doctor had once explained that it meant to think about something other than the thing you were supposed to be thinking about. Not that Adric had ever been one to get distracted in this way, particularly when there were mathematical problems to be solved, but this was a situation that was going to take some getting used to. He was dead, one of the Deceased, nothing but essence. Mortis had said his physical body had been completely destroyed, but Adric had no memory of burning to death, so the process must have been very quick. Even so, the thought was disturbing . . .
Just then, a diffused glow appeared in the corner of the room, rapidly taking on the forms of two women. The one on the left was dark-haired and dressed in a dark-coloured gown in the Grecian style. She reminded Adric of a picture he had seen soon after he first stowed away in the TARDIS. While exploring the maze of corridors, he had come across a room filled with the various artifacts the Doctor had picked up on his travels. Among the assortment of alien devices and historical objects was a painting of a woman dressed in a style very similar to the woman now standing before him. Not that art was of much interest to Adric; he had been far more interested in the library and its vast collection of books.
The second woman was dressed in a black catsuit, a utility belt around her waist and diagonally across her chest. The look on her face was that of someone who meant business and did not suffer fools gladly. She was the first of the two newcomers to speak. "Is this the boy?" she asked Mortis, nodding in Adric's direction.
"Yes," replied Mortis. "This is Adric. Like you and Katarina, he was a companion of the Doctor when he died. Adric," he added, turning back to the boy, "I summoned Katarina . . ." He gestured in the direction of the woman in the Grecian gown. " . . . and Sara . . ." He pointed to the woman in the black catsuit. " . . . here because the three of you have something in common. All of you died while travelling with the Doctor."
"I don't see what that has to do with anything," said Adric, swinging his legs over the edge of the table he had been lying on.
"It has to do with a lot. When the life of any sentient being ends, it is my job to select those who will help them adjust to their new status as one of the Deceased. It is always important, especially for those who died young as you did. Those chosen must have shared at least one significant life experience with the newly Deceased . . ."
"But why them?" Adric gestured towards Katarina and Sara. "I never even met them before."
Mortis looked at Adric thoughtfully. "Well, ideally, we would have chosen someone from your own race. But, in your case, that wasn't possible. Since you died on Earth, that is where we picked up your essence. You will join the other Deceased Alzarians in time - meanwhile, go with Katarina and Sara."
As Katarina and Sara turned to leave, Adric noticed for the first time that this room had no doors; it contained nothing but blank walls. "Wondering how to get out of here?" Mortis asked. "Just touch the wall when you come to it."
"Thanks," Adric said, walking over to join Katarina and Sara at the far wall. "Mortis," he added as another question occured to him, "what about the Time Lords? When they regenerate, what happens to their old self?" As he spoke, he wondered if the Doctor he had originally met on Alzarius, the Doctor who had fallen from a radio telescope and changed before his eyes, was indeed here somewhere.
"The Time Lords are a special case," replied Mortis. "When they regenerate, the essence of their earlier self remains within them. Only when a Time Lord actually dies will his essences be brought here, starting with that of his most recent incarnation . . ."
At that moment, an alarm pierced through the room. "That is the signal for you to leave," Mortis told Adric, when the boy looked round for the source of the alarm. "You have already lingered in my chamber for too long."
Seeing Katarina and Sara reaching for the wall, Adric followed their lead. At the same instant, the wall dissolved in a silvery mist, allowing the three of them to walk straight through it, the process reminding Adric of the false wall the Terileptils had used to conceal their secret laboratory. They emerged in what appeared to be an ordinary square thronged with people of all ages, people from all periods of history.
Katarina turned to face Adric. "Welcome," she said, speaking for the first time, "to the Place of Perfection."
"But I thought this place didn't have a name." Confused, Adric looked back the way he had come, only to find that there was no sign of the opening he, Katarina and Sara had walked through moments before.
"Actually, it has many names," Sara said. "Heaven, Nirvana . . . Katarina calls it the Place of Perfection because that's what her people called it."
The three of them made their way into the square, Sara taking the lead. As they walked, Adric stole glances (another of those Earth expressions that didn't seem to make sense) at the Deceased Earthlings, most of whom were unfamiliar to him. Occasionally, however, he glimpsed one he recognised, either from a book he had read in the TARDIS library or from his travels with the Doctor. The others who had died during the battle against the Cybermen were here, including the two men the Doctor and Adric had been accused of murdering. But Adric could not bring himself to look at them for long; seeing them and knowing that the Cybermen had also been responsible for their deaths reminded him of his failure to save their world from destruction.
Bigon, the Ancient Greek philosopher, was standing under an archway. The real Bigon (or, rather, his essence), not the android Adric had met on Monarch's spacecraft . . . Adric could not see the other three Earthlings (Kurkutji, Lin Futu and Villagra) who had fallen victim to Monarch's megalomania, but he guessed they must be here somewhere. Not that he wanted to meet any of them; just seeing Bigon reminded him of how he had been duped by Monarch, tricked into siding with the deluded Urbankan, used as a pawn in his plot to conquer Earth. Thankfully, he had been brought to his senses in time, but failing to think before he acted had always been Adric's biggest weakness.
Adric did not recognise the middle-aged woman whose coat was trimmed with white fur, a matching hat on her head, as Tegan's Aunt Vanessa; he had never met her, had never even seen a picture. But he recognised the man in 1920s dress who stood nearby. George Cranleigh, the botanist and explorer who had been tortured into insanity by a tribe of Amazonian Indians, who had kidnapped Nyssa after mistaking her for his former fiance, Ann. George was no longer the scarred wreck of a human being Adric had encountered; as one of the Deceased, he now resembled the photograph which had been printed inside his account of his travels.
The Doctor had tried to get Adric to read George's book, The Black Orchid, shortly before the encounter with the Cybermen. But Adric had been feeling out of sorts and the attempt at conversation had quickly degenerated into a heated exchance. And, when Adric demanded to be taken back to E-Space, it became an outright argument; the Doctor was not willing to take the risk and had even warned Adric that he was "plotting the course to his own destruction". Not knowing how prophetic his words would be . . .
Presently, they arrived in a large chamber with side-rooms branching off from it. There was nothing in the chamber itself, except a large wall chart which dominated the far wall. Curious, Adric walked over to the chart and started studying it. It appeared to be a list of planets, every life-bearing planet in existence, though the sheer number of planets was too many to count individually, even for Adric. However, he did recognise the names of a few of the planets listed - Earth, Traken, Logopolis, Deva Loka, Urbanka . . . Some of these names (including Logopolis and Urbanka) were, Adric noted, greyed out, their names fading into the background of the chart.
"I see you've found the Interface."
Startled, Adric looked round. Mortis was standing directly behind him, his eyes fixed on the chart the young Alzarian had been studying. "This," Mortis said, pointing towards the chart he had refered to as the Interface, "is the nerve centre of this place; every planet that has ever supported intelligent life is listed here, even if they no longer do so. Those are the ones whose names are in grey. If a planet and all its inhabitants are completely wiped out, its name will also become grey. However, as long as there is one surviving link with a planet, its name will remain lit up."
At this, Adric found his eyes drawn back to the name Traken. Even though he had witnessed that world's destruction, its name was not one of those that had been greyed out; that would not happen until Nyssa, the last surviving Traken . . . The thought of Nyssa dying reminded Adric that his own life had been brought to a premature and violent end and he hurriedly backed away from the Interface.
"The Interface lets me know when someone has died," Mortis went on. "Necron then picks up their essence from wherever their death occured and transports it into my chamber. There, it becomes permanently fixed at whatever age the Deceased had reached when they died. Their chronological age," he added, nodding in Sara's direction. Adric then recalled what Necron had said about Sara having been aged to death by the Time Destructor; clearly, though the device had caused her to age physically, her essence had remained untouched.
"The Interface is also a window onto the universe of the living," Mortis added. "With it, I can call up a scene from anywhere in time and space. For example . . ." The list of planets disappeared, replaced by a scene showing a grand banqueting hall filled with people dressed in a similar style to Katarina.
"Troy . . ." Katarina whispered, tears forming in her eyes at the sight of her former home.
"Troy as it was before the city fell," Mortis explained. "The Doctor helped bring about its fall, though you won't have found any mention of that in any Earth history books. But that isn't why we're here. Adric," he said, turning to the boy, "all the Deceased are given the chance to witness their own funerals or memorial services. It helps them accept what has happened to them . . ."
Mortis kept talking for a while longer, but Adric wasn't really listening and found himself nodding mechanically when Mortis asked if he was "ready". The scene on the screen then changed again, revealing the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan grouped around what appeared to be a stone altar. They seemed to be somewhere in the TARDIS, though Adric had no memory of seeing the room the Doctor and his two surviving companions were currently in. But there was a solemn air about it, hardly surprising as the sole purpose of this room was to serve as a place to remember the dead. Had Adric not been completely incinerated in the explosion, his body would have been placed here until more permanent arrangements could be made. But the Doctor had never used this room for that purpose; Katarina's body had never been recovered and Sara, like Adric, had left no physical remains at all.
However, Adric could see pictures of both women on the altar, doubtless taken from the TARDIS databanks; evidently, the Doctor had used this room after their deaths as well. Adric was just thinking about this, when Katarina interupted him. "Adric, that man," she said, pointing to the image of the Doctor on the screen. "Who is he?"
"The Doctor, of course," Adric replied, turning away from the screen for a moment. "Who do you think it is?"
"Yes, I understand," Katarina said. "The Doctor is a god, so he can appear in any form he chooses. To Sara and me, he appeared as a white-haired old man. But to you he appeared as that young man."
"Well, actually he's not a god," Adric said. It was obvious that Katarina knew nothing of regeneration, the process which allowed a Time Lord to replace a failing body with a completely new one, with new personality and mannerisms. "It's just a talent his people have." He turned back to the scene on the screen.
"Adric was not always the easiest person to get on with," the Doctor was saying, his eyes clouded with sorrow for his lost friend. "He could be stubborn and he didn't like being contradicted. But we should remember him for other things, for his courage and determination to prove himself, even if his ideas didn't always work according to plan." The Doctor allowed himself a weak smile at this point, doubtless recalling some incident where Adric had innocently complicated whatever problem the TARDIS crew were dealing with at the time. Then, he continued. "And we should also remember him for his remarkable mathematical talent, for his ability to solve complex equations at a rate which rivalled the most advanced computers. Had he lived, he had the potential to become one of the greatest mathematical minds in the Universe and, in many ways, he already was."
"Instead, he has been . . ." The Doctor broke off at this point and stared vacantly ahead. It was plain that Adric's death had affected him deeply, that, no matter how many more companions he picked up, nothing could completely erase the sense of guilt that he had been unable to save the young Alzarian. Nearby, Nyssa stood fighting back tears as she had done on the day she and Adric had seen Traken swallowed up by the Entropy Field. She had lost so much and she was still just a teenager herself. And Tegan was making no attempt to stem the flow of tears falling down her face, which surprised Adric. She had never exactly been close friends with him; on more than one occasion, she had made it clear that she thought he was an annoying little so-and-so. So shouldn't she have been pleased that he was gone?
At this point, however, the Doctor regained his composure and continued speaking. ". . . taken from us before his full potential could be realised. But he didn't die in vain," the Doctor added, echoing the words he had once said to Victoria following the death of her father. "His actions ensured the survival of the human race . . ."
Adric shut out the rest of the Doctor's speech. He longed to shout at the Doctor, tell him that what he had said about "ensuring the survival of the human race" wasn't true. He, Adric, had planned to divert the freighter away from Earth, but had failed. He recalled everything that had happened towards the end of his life - insisting that the Doctor left him on the freighter while the Doctor and Tegan returned to the TARDIS, attempting to solve the logic codes, the moment Lieutenant Scott had dragged him away from the computer as the freighter was evacuated, running back on board to continue working on the last logic code. All these had been in vain; he had been unable to prevent the crash which not only ended his life, but caused . . .
Adric could stand it no longer. He bolted out of the chamber and into one of the side rooms, not stopping to think about where he was going, wanting nothing more than to escape from this abode of the Deceased, even though he knew it was impossible.
Adric emerged in a blank nothingness, a bleak grey landscape which reminded him of the void between E-Space and N-Space. Except, that void had been a blank white, not the dark grey of this place, and there had been landmarks in the form of a crashed spacecraft and an ancient gateway. Here, there was nothing, literally nothing. But maybe, Adric thought ruefully, this was the best place for him. All his life, he had felt like an outsider; the earliest memory he had was of the other Alzarian children laughing at him for his obsession with maths. And when, several years later, he tried to join Varsh's band of rebels, they had been unwilling to accept an Elite into their ranks - and Varsh had died just when he and Adric had achieved a measure of understanding. Even as a member of the TARDIS crew (and despite the friendship of Nyssa) he had never felt like he truly belonged.
He slumped down on the ground, wishing he could disappear entirely. His mind was filled with everything that had gone wrong in his life, a life which had ended in the very disaster he had been trying to prevent . . . Lost in his thoughts, he was unaware that Mortis had approached him, until Mortis spoke to him.
Adric glanced up to see Mortis looking directly at him, as enigmatic as ever but with an underlying concern for the troubled boy. "Adric," Mortis said again, "your feelings are perfectly normal. You are grieving."
At this, Adric got to his feet. "How can I be grieving?" he demanded. "I'm supposed to be one of the Deceased."
"For the mortal life you left behind," Mortis explained. "It's a common experience for the newly Deceased, especially if they had little or no time to prepare for death beforehand."
"It's not that," Adric said, turning away from Mortis. "The Doctor was talking like I was some kind of self-sacrificing hero! But I wasn't - I was just an idiot who couldn't do anything right!" He felt tears of frustration prick his eyes; he had been nothing but a liability to the Doctor . . .
"Adric, that isn't true." It was Katarina; she and Sara had entered this blank grey nothingness while Mortis and Adric were talking.
"Like you'd know!" Adric shot back. "You didn't know me . . . before." The last word was barely audible. If he could only return to the universe of the living, he told himself that things would be different this time. He would try not to get involved in situations where he didn't know what he was doing - like the incident with the TSS, which had landed him on the wrong end of a stern lecture from the Doctor - and he would try not to annoy Tegan so much. But it was no use wishing for the impossible. "And now I'll . . ."
Mortis cut him off in mid-sentence. "You made mistakes, like everyone does. But you should not dwell on those mistakes - think about other aspects of your life. In particular, think about times when you demonstrated the courage the Doctor spoke of."
"Mortis is right," Sara added. "I killed my own brother because I thought he was a traitor. But I was tricked by someone who only cared about gaining power . . ."
Adric frowned; what Sara was saying sounded very like his own experience with Monarch. Except, Adric had discovered his mistake before any innocent lives were lost . . . But Sara wasn't burdened with the knowledge that she had failed to save Earth from an exploding space freighter. "Look," he said, forcing himself to speak calmly. "I know you mean well, but I destroyed your world. And now I've got to . . . deal with that for all eternity."
"I think," Mortis said, "it's time you saw what really happened on Earth when the freighter crashed . . ."
Mortis led the three of them back to the chamber they had exited moments before. The Interface once more showed the list of planets, but Mortis quickly called up a scene showing huge reptilian creatures lumbering through a primeval landscape. "Earth, as it was on the day the freighter crashed," he explained. "Now, watch!" he added, studying Adric closely as a huge spacecraft appeared in the sky, on a collision course with the planet below. Showing the Deceased their own deaths was risky, especially in cases of violent death. But, in Adric's case, it did seem to be the only way . . .
Adric watched the scene unfolding on the screen, wanting to look away but finding himself unable to do so. Somehow, though he had never seen it from outside, he knew that spacecraft had to be the freighter . . . His thoughts were cut off as the freighter slammed into Earth and the scene below was completely engulfed in a massive fireball. Nothing in the immediate vicinity was spared; everything - the freighter, the lumbering creatures below, the primitive plants - was destroyed in the inferno. Adric did not actually witness his own incineration; Mortis was wary of upsetting the young Alzarian even more than he was already.
"Now do you see?" Mortis asked. "Those creatures you saw - the dinosaurs - were once the dominent life-form on Earth. But the climate changes caused by the freighter crashing and exploding caused them to die out and paved the way for other species, for the human race. Think about it - had you managed to stop the crash, none of this would exist." The scene changed to show a scene from Tegan's time, a city with people going about their business. Adric saw two boys around his own age, who were listening to music blaring out of a grey box on the ground nearby, though the lyrics of the song they were listening to didn't mean much to him. Something about "Kids In America" . . .
Adric looked over towards Katarina and Sara, feeling a sense of calm he had not felt since arriving in this abode of the Deceased and had rarely felt when he was alive. The Doctor had been right; he, Adric, had not died in vain. Tegan and every other human owed their existence to the explosion which had destroyed the freighter and killed him. He still did not know if he had solved the last logic code and, though he could have asked Mortis, he realised it no longer mattered.
"I'd say that's quite a legacy to have left," Mortis said. "And now," he added, as a light appeared over one of the nearby doors, but not the one Adric had run through moments before, "your brother is waiting."